Haldane Garden Matures, Diversifies, Educates

Raise the Roof fundraising dance party April 12 at The Living Room

By Alison Rooney

As many local 4-year-olds prepare for the transition into Haldane as kindergartners in the fall, one 4-year-old — the Haldane School Garden — has had a head start at the school, evolving, flourishing and occasionally doing the unexpected, as most gardens do. Initially viewed by some as perhaps a charming addition to the grounds, the garden has proven to be a source for a host of curriculum initiatives. This Friday night (April 12) the garden is throwing a Raising the Roof dance party at The Living Room to fundraise for this season’s improvements — in particular a green education shed — and beyond.

A garden committee of approximately 13 members shepherds the development of the garden, which was originally funded by the Haldane School Foundation (HSF) and the Hudson Highlands Land Trust. There are “garden parents” associated with many of the elementary school classes. These parents take “their” classes out once a week, even during winter, to make observations and do projects.

Haldane Garden oneSome activities are teacher-driven; for example, Simon Dudar’s fourth-graders worked with the concept of “square-foot gardening.” Some teachers have yet to use it, said committee member and gardener (and mom of a first-grader) Kory Riesterer, but “our goal is if a teacher approaches us to help, we will do as much as possible.”

Spring projects just at the threshold of happening include second-grade classes planting sunflowers and investigating tulip bulbs post-bloom, while fourth graders concentrate on edible plant parts: roots, seeds, leaves. The third-graders will be wishing and hoping that their giant cabbage might just take the honors in a national growing program.

The garden’s instructive uses go far beyond tilling the soil. Young poets have been brought to the garden for inspiration, while the French classes have increased their legumes vocabulary by attaching the words to tangible things. Math students have hunted for natural polygons and used their hands to measure beds.

“The possibilities for curriculum use are sort of endless,” said Riesterer. “We can point out how the garden can support grade-level inquiry every step of the way.”

The garden also serves as one of the backbones of Haldane’s Farm to School program. That program’s leader, Sandy McKelvey, has a raised bed whose bounty has provided chefs with ingredients for cooking demonstrations at the school.

Haldane Garden Kids Doing Leaf RubbingsThe garden does not languish from inattention in the summer — far from it; parents can sign up for a week-long shift, during which they and their child(ren) are responsible for the garden and are rewarded by being able to harvest produce that becomes ready to pick during that time. “It’s actually becoming a hangout spot for families over summer,” said Riesterer.

The garden has grown tremendously since its inception and now includes a native-plant habitat garden; a bird and butterfly garden; an area for the Eco-Kids club to conduct activities; a bulb garden; lattice and trellis installations for vine-growing; an herb garden; a tropical garden; and a sunflower spot. There is even a sensory garden bed, in which the plants exhibit unique textures, smells and colors, all designed to arouse one’s senses. This bed, in particular, according to Riesterer, “shows children what a bounty of diversity there is in the plant kingdom.” This season’s newest attraction will be Dr. Seuss-like “crazy carnivorous plants” and a small aquatic eco-system with plants, snails and fish.

The Friday night fundraiser will be helping to raise monies for this year’s biggest project, the construction of a “green education shed.” Currently there is a small plastic one, which is inefficient as the extreme weather makes it expand, contract and pop open. The HSF has provided an initial grant, and the committee is seeking to match those funds. Hopes are to start building over the summer with the grant in hand and to have the work done by the end of the year. The shed will hold more tools and supplies, allow for a potting table and classroom cubbies, and showcase a living green roof. Haldane Director of Facilities Mike Twardy and his staff “have graciously offered to help us,” said Riesterer.

Haldane Garden Word GardenAnother project for this year is the restoration of the greenhouse located on the north side of the elementary building. This endeavor is being facilitated by the Philipstown Garden Club with funding from the HSF.

The Haldane Garden Committee is always in need of more volunteers. One need not have expertise in gardening to lend a hand, although there is always a call to come on over to shovel compost and rake leaves. The “technically adroit” are always welcome, said Riesterer, as are those with fundraising experience, grant-writing knowledge, the ability to teach children about any aspect of gardening, etc. In-kind donations are equally welcomed, and the garden has received support from many community organizations and lots of local businesses.

As for the Raise the Roof party, tickets are $15 (bought at the door) to attend, intended for adults only, and goes from 9 p.m. until midnight. Admission includes one glass of wine, and nonalcoholic beverages will be available for purchase or BYOB. For more information, visit www.growinghaldane.com.

Photos courtesy Haldane Garden Committee

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